The red heifer (Hebrew: פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה; para adumma),
also known as the red cow, was a cow brought to the priests as a
sacrifice according to the Hebrew Bible, and its ashes were used for
the ritual purification of Tum'at HaMet ("the impurity of the dead"),
that is, an
Israelite who had come into contact with a corpse.
Hebrew Bible (Torah)
1.1 Book of Numbers
2.1 Details of the commandment
2.2 Jewish tradition
2.3 Temple Institute
3 Christian tradition
4 Ancient Greek mythology
5 Modern-day usage
7 External links
Hebrew Bible (Torah)
Book of Numbers
According to: "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee
a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never
came yoke". (Numbers 19:2)
Book of Numbers
Book of Numbers stipulates that the cow must be red in color,
without blemish, and it must not have been used to perform work.
(Numbers 19:2) The heifer is then ritually slaughtered (Numbers 19:3)
and burned outside of the camp (Numbers 19:3–6). Cedar wood, hyssop,
and wool or yarn dyed scarlet are added to the fire, and the remaining
ashes are placed in a vessel containing pure water. (Numbers 19:9)
In order to purify a person who has become ritually contaminated by
contact with a corpse, water from the vessel is sprinkled on him,
using a bunch of hyssop, on the third and seventh day of the
purification process. (Numbers 19:18-19)
The priest who performs the ritual then becomes ritually unclean, and
must then wash himself and his clothes in running waters. He is deemed
impure until evening.
The Mishnah, the central compilation of Rabbinic Oral Law, contains a
tractate on the Red Heifer, Tractate
Parah ("Cow") in Seder Tohorot,
which explains the procedures involved. The tractate has no existing
Gemara, although commentary on key elements of the procedure is found
in the Gemarah for other tractates of the Talmud. According to Mishnah
Parah, the presence of two black hairs invalidates a Red Heifer, in
addition to the usual requirements of an unblemished animal for
Details of the commandment
There are various other requirements, such as natural birth. The
water must be "living" i.e. spring water. This is a stronger
requirement than for a ritual bath. Rainwater accumulated in a cistern
is permitted for a mikveh, but cannot be used in the Red Heifer
Mishnah reports that in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, water
for the ritual came from the Pool of Siloam. The ceremony involved was
complex and detailed. To ensure complete ritual purity of those
involved, enormous care was taken to ensure that no-one involved in
the Red Heifer ceremony could have had any contact with the dead or
any form of tumah, and implements were made of materials, such as
stone, which in Jewish law do not act as carriers for ritual
Mishnah recounts that children were used to draw and
carry the water for the ceremony, children born and reared in
isolation for the specific purpose of ensuring that they never came
into contact with a corpse:
There were courtyards in
Jerusalem built over [the virgin] rock and
below them a hollow [was made] lest there might be a grave in the
depths, and pregnant women were brought and bore their children there,
and there they reared them. And oxen were brought, and on their backs
were laid doors on top of which sat the children with cups of stone in
their hands. When they arrived in Shiloah [the children] alighted, and
filled [the cups with water], and mounted, and again sat on the doors
Various other devices were used, including a causeway from the Temple
Mount to the
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives so that the Heifer and accompanying
priests would not come in contact with a grave.
According to the Mishnah, the ceremony of the burning of the red
heifer itself took place on the Mount of Olives. A ritually pure kohen
slaughtered the heifer, and sprinkled of its blood in the direction of
the Temple seven times. The Red Heifer was then burnt on a pyre,
together with crimson dyed wool, hyssop, and cedar wood. In recent
years, the site of the burning of the Red Heifer on the Mount of
Olives has been tentatively located by archaeologist Yonatan Adler.
The existence of a red heifer that conforms with all of the rigid
requirements imposed by halakha is a biological anomaly.[clarification
needed] The animal must be entirely of one color, and there is a
series of tests listed by the rabbis to ensure this; for instance, the
hair of the cow must be absolutely straight (to ensure that the cow
had not previously been yoked, as this is a disqualifier). According
to Jewish tradition, only nine Red Heifers were actually slaughtered
in the period extending from
Moses to the destruction of the Second
Parah recounts them, stating that
Moses prepared the
Ezra the second,
Simon the Just
Simon the Just and
Yochanan the High Priest
prepared two each, and Elioenai ben HaQayaph, Hanameel the Egyptian,
and Yishmael ben Pi'avi prepared one each (
The absolute rarity of the animal, combined with the detailed ritual
in which it is used, have given the Red Heifer special status in
Jewish tradition. It is cited as the prime example of a ḥok, or
biblical law for which there is no apparent logic. Because the state
of ritual purity obtained through the ashes of a Red Heifer is a
necessary prerequisite for participating in Temple service, efforts
have been made in modern times by Jews wishing for biblical ritual
purity (see tumah and taharah) and in anticipation of the building of
The Third Temple
The Third Temple to locate a red heifer and recreate the ritual.
However, multiple candidates have been disqualified, as late as 2002.
(See the "Temple Institute" section below.)
Main article: Temple Institute
The Temple Institute, an organization dedicated to preparing the
reconstruction of a
Third Temple in Jerusalem, has been attempting to
identify Red Heifer candidates consistent with the requirements of
Numbers 19:1–22 and
Mishnah Tractate Parah. In recent years,
the institute thought to have identified two candidates, one in 1997
and another in 2002. The
Temple Institute had initially declared
both kosher, but later found each to be unsuitable but currently claim
that they have a third candidate. Of late, the Institute has been
raising funds in order to use modern technology to produce a red
heifer that is genetically based on the Red Angus.
Epistle of Barnabas
Epistle of Barnabas (8:1) explicitly equates the Red
Heifer with Jesus. In the New Testament, the phrases "without the
gate" (Hebrews 13:12) and "without the camp" (Numbers 19:3, Hebrews
13:13) have been taken to be not only an identification of
the Red Heifer, but an indication as to the location of the
crucifixion. This is the thesis of
Ernest L. Martin in his 1984 book
Secrets of Golgotha.
Some Fundamentalist Christians believe that the
Second Coming of Jesus
Christ cannot occur until the
Third Temple is constructed in
Jerusalem, which requires the appearance of a red heifer born in
Israel. Clyde Lott, a cattle breeder in O'Neill, Nebraska, is
attempting to systematically breed red heifers and export them to
Israel to establish a breeding line of red heifers in Israel in the
hope that this will bring about the construction of the Third Temple
and ultimately the
Second Coming of Jesus.
Ancient Greek mythology
The red heifer was also considered sacred to the Greek god
Apollo. They are featured in many myths, including
that of the creation of the lyre. In it Hermes steals Apollo's red
heifers and then hides them. To escape Apollo's rage, Hermes creates
Geryon, the mythical three-bodied creature slain by Heracles, had red
cattle, according to Pseudo-Apollodorus, which
Heracles stole as
his tenth labor.
The red heifer is the official mascot of Gann Academy, a Jewish high
school located in Waltham, Massachusetts.
^ Carmichael, Calum (2012). The Book of Numbers: a Critique of
Genesis. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.
pp. 103–121. ISBN 9780300179187.
^ (Caesarian section renders a Heifer candidate invalid)
^ Mishnayoth Seder Taharoth, translated and annotated by Phillip
Blackman, Judaica Press, 2000.
^ Y. Adler, "The Site of the Burning of the Red Heifer on the Mount of
Olives", Techumin, 22 (2002), pp. 537–542. (Hebrew)
^ "The Mystery of the Red Heifer: Divine Promise of Purity".
Templeinstitute.org. 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
^ "Apocalypse Cow". The New York Times. March 30, 1997. Retrieved
December 21, 2013.
^ "News Flash: Red Heifer Born in Israel!". Templeinstitute.org.
accessdate= August 15, 2015
^ "Readings Apocalypse! Frontline". Pbs.org. Retrieved
^ "Library of Apollodoros". Perseus Encyclopedia. Retrieved 28 January
^ "Teams". Gannacademy.com. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
"Ashes and Water - From the Chassidic Masters"